Mexico isn’t just a Spring Break destination. It’s a land of dozens of languages, even more Pueblos Mágicos, and snowy (yes, snowy!) volcanoes. If you’ve never thought about teaching English in Mexico, life south of the border might be perfect for you and you don’t even know it yet!
Beyond the joys of working with students, Mexico’s colorful fiestas, ample natural beauty, and world-renowned foods will, in turn, teach you todo about celebrating the bumpy ride of life in ways you haven’t imagined.
Ready to accept your destiny? Here are some tell-tale signs you should probably already be teaching English in Mexico:
1. You love speaking Spanish. ¡Órale!
Mexico is the most populated Spanish-speaking country in the world, but it has a long history of languages before the Spanish colonized the land. The Aztecs, original emperors of the City of the Sun, spoke Nahuatl, and many of its words, particularly for types of food, passed into English, such as tomatoes (tomatl), chocolate (chocolatl), and avocados (ahuacatl). Over 60 other different indigenous languages are spoken here, so whether you’re learning Spanish in Mexico or picking up Mixteco, you’ll have countless chances to make the most of your teaching experience.
2. The way Mexico is represented in the news upsets you.
When people talk about Mexico, they probably mention Cancun, tequila, and drug cartel violence. “Is it safe?” is usually the go-to question when discussing travel to Mexico. Many news channels are especially adept at stereotyping Mexico as being nothing but a violent frenzy of shootouts between cocaine dealers. But once you visit and begin teaching, you’ll realize México is filled with cities that are just like any other city that is home to normal people going about their daily lives.
Barack and Michelle Obama even sent their then 13-year-old daughter Malia to the state of Oaxaca for spring break, and safety wasn’t a huge issue. What the news doesn’t tell you is that Oaxaca state has a smaller body count from the drug war than the state of Pennsylvania’s murder rate (Oaxaca’s 4.39 per 100,000 to Pennsylvania’s 5.2). While yes, drug violence occurs there, just as it does all over the world, there’s still so much more to Mexico!
Mexico is safe if you follow typical best practices: avoid solitary places at night, travel in groups, and be aware of valuables. Petty theft is definitely more common than murder, so it’s your iPhone you should really be worried about.
3. You’re tired of sharing your studio apartment with three friends and four cats.
You’re destined to teach English in Mexico if you’re ready to trade in your scrappy, month-to-month paychecks for a little more laid back lifestyle. While teaching English is a fulfilling profession, we all know that it doesn’t pay out quite like investment banking does. Luckily for you, Mexico has a relatively low cost of living. Even renting a one-bedroom apartment while teaching in the enormous capital of Mexico City will run you around $600 a month, and a month of bus rides will set up back just about $20.
Groceries, especially when bought at a market, are cheap, too. You can get a cup of coffee or a dozen eggs for less than $2 each, and you can gorge yourself on street cart food for mere pennies (er, pesos). Bring along your hand sanitizer and stock up on Yakult (especially as you adjust to the flavors and/or microbes), then join the locals at market stalls to fill up on tamales, mole, endless stacks of tortillas, and a fresh licuado on the side.
Live the sweet life as an ESL teacher in Mexico without dwindling your savings account.
4. You’re a history buff.
On your days off from teaching English in Mexico, it isn’t hard to see the country’s illustrious past for yourself. There’s so much history to learn, that no matter how long you explore, you won’t see it all. Long before the Spanish stumbled upon Mesoamerica, various civilizations were already building pyramids and mixing chilis into their chocolate (you’re welcome, Whole Foods).
The first great civilization in Mexico were the Olmecs (1400 to 300 B.C.), who sculpted colossal heads and worshiped an unnamed god that was part human, part jaguar. The Zapotecs, also referred to as the “Cloud People”, later sprung up in Oaxaca around 600 B.C. and crafted some pretty impressive clay and gold jewelry in Monte Albán. Don’t forget the Mayans, who casually developed the first writing system in the Americas. No trip is complete without visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the largest remaining Mayan archaeological city: Chichen Itzá.
Mexico City is built over the ruins of a great Aztec city, Tenochtitlán, which was built over a lake. The Aztecs noticed a majestic eagle perched atop a cactus in the center of a lake with a snake in its claws, which they considered an obvious sign build a city around this site (If you want a glimpse of the remaining lake, take the metro to Xochimilco and see the canals). Because of this inconvenient location, Mexico City is sinking at a rate of six to eight inches per year, supplying water to the city’s growing population from its underground reservoir.
This makes one wonder about Mexico’s fate. Will it be just another civilization with an end date? If you love history, you’re bound to come up with similar questions about how Mexico’s past will shape its future.
5. You’re a hardcore football fan. No, not American football.
There’s always a sport to play or watch in Mexico. While the charreada (a competitive sport similar to a rodeo) is Mexico's national sport, fútbol (soccer, for you Americans) is currently the most popular. Since you’ve been sporting an “I Love Salvador Reyes” shirt since the 80’s and we shouldn’t even both asking you if you’ve heard of el chicharito, the stars are aligning for you to take the leap and join the thousands of other football fans in this country.
No mention of sports in Mexico is complete without Lucha Libre (free wrestling), a pop cultural phenomenon that is as much of a performance as it is a wrestling competition. Lucha Libre differs from the professional wrestling in other countries in that the luchadores usually have smaller physiques and the wrestling moves are more aerial and high-flying than the power moves popular elsewhere. The luchadores propel themselves into the air with such technical and acrobatic skills that you’d think you were watching a grittier version of Cirque du Soleil.
6. You’re always reaching for the hot sauce and pepper shakers.
One need only look at your last credit card statement to see just how many times you bought a Chipotle burrito. But you’re no sucker for convenience, either: you’ve already scouted out the best authentic Mexican joint in your hometown, and you’re quick to encourage your friends to trade in their lame quesalupas for two-tortilla classic tacos.
Make sure the hot sauce is never out of reach again as you get to know Mexico through your eyes and your belly. It’s high-time you expand your understanding of Mexican food (it’s so much more than taquitos and guacamole). Embrace the chapulines, roasted grasshoppers characteristic of Oaxaca, and indulge in a shot of mezcal, burning deliciousness made from maguey and decorated with an insect larva at the bottom of the glass. Don’t forget to add a sprinkle of lime, a dash of salt, and a shower of salsa to all of the above.
7. You’re an adventure seeker.
Whether you’re into jumping into cenotes, rafting in Chiapas’ Sumidero Canyon, or sighting the millions of monarch butterflies that migrate to Michoacan every year from Canada, Mexico’s outdoors are jaw-droppingly dynamic. Mexico is the spot for teachers to relax on the beaches near Tulum or for adrenaline junkies seeking to make the most out of Mexico’s placement in the “Ring of Fire,” one of the earth’s most violent earthquake and volcano zones.
You can either marvel at the volcanoes or hike them yourself. With the volcanoes come legends, such as that of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. The story goes that the Aztec warrior, Popocatépetl left his lover, Iztaccíhuatl (the king’s daughter) to fight in battle. Word spread that the warrior died in battle, and his lover died from grief. She turned into a snowy-capped, sleepy volcano whose mountains resemble the figure of a sleeping woman. Popocatepetl wasn’t too pleased when he found out the town gossip had killed his lover, so he turned into the furious, active volcano that looms over Mexico City today. What goes around, comes around.
8. You look for any excuse to have a fiesta.
Mexican culture is all about celebrating life, and death. Join in on one of the many fiestas, such as Mexico’s Independence from Spain held every September. When you’ve recovered from El Grito, shake your boots to ranchera music, hit a piñata, flock to Veracruz for carneval, join in as banda plays homage to a town’s name saint, and check out the daily ferias dedicated to regional cuisines.
With the celebrations of life and victory also comes the veneration of the diseased. On the first of November is the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), where communities come together to display elaborate altars to deceased family members, each with photos, candles, and offerings. Vendors sell colorful, edible sugar skulls to remind people that even death has a sweet side.
With so many festivals, taco fillings to try, and volcanoes to admire, teaching English in Mexico will no doubt be an adventure. You’ll brush up on your Spanish (or be inspired to take up Zapotec) while making a difference in the classroom. Before you know it, you’ll understand why they say Viva Mexico. This article is your final sign...